From phonetic enhancement to phonological underspecification: hybrid voicing contrast in European Portuguese

  • Michael Ramsammy
  • Patrycja Strycharczuk


Laryngeal contrast in European Portuguese has typically been described in the phonological literature in terms of an opposition between [+voice] and [–voice]. However, a number of phonetic studies have revealed that lenis fricatives in European Portuguese tend not to exhibit consistent, robust voicing. Focusing on the sibilant system, this paper has a three-fold goal. Firstly, we present results of a phonetic study designed to test the realisation of sibilants both in contrast and neutralisation contexts. Secondly, we propose a reanalysis of synchronic laryngeal contrast couched in the laryngeal realist tradition. Our claim is that an analysis in which fortis fricatives are specified for [spread glottis] makes more accurate phonetic predictions than alternative approaches. Our analysis entails the secondary claim that European Portuguese exemplifies what we term a hybrid voicing system: whilst [spread glottis] is the key contrast feature for the fricative series, the stop series can be best handled by assuming that lenis stops are specified for [voice]. Thirdly, we develop a possible diachronic scenario for how such a hybrid system may have emerged diachronically as the result of phonological changes the history Portuguese.